Monday, 10 June 2013

Patient Voices on Managing Symptoms, May 2013

An earlier post introduced the Patients Voices meeting we held in London on 11th May 2013. This post shares the notes from the breakout discussion group which looked at managing symptoms. 

With many thanks to Group member, Hannah Elbourne, who has kindly typed these up and who also kindly took several lovely photos of this event.

NB: These notes must not be interpreted as medical advice, they are simply things that individuals have tried and found helpful to them if you are experiencing any symptoms which cause you concern - speak to your doctor. 

BTF London volunteer, Theresa, with the Expert Patient Programme course book:
 Self  Management of Long Term Health Conditions

Managing Symptoms, Discussion Group Notes:

Everyone in the group explained a bit about who they are and why they have chosen this particular group to participate in. We went on to talk in general about coping with having a chronic illness as well as discussing our perspectives and questions we had on how to spot and manage the emotional, mental, and physical symptoms related to thyroid disease.

Everyone in the group was hypo rather than hyper, so this is what we focused on, although it was acknowledged that hyper and hypo symptoms can be quite similar and difficult to detangle - and also that symptoms can vary from person to person and may not always be down to our thyroid condition as we may also have other things wrong with us. 

There were some approaches that came up which people felt help them in general, and also techniques for coping with specific symptoms.
Common symptoms and things people in the group said help them:

Muscle pain/ swelling: especially lack of upper limb strength makes it difficult even doing simple exercises that use arms or puts pressure on shoulders:
  •         Magnesium spray on the muscles
  •         Not eating salty foods
  •         Seeing an osteopath
  •         Massage therapy (human contact) – one person goes for a massage and talks through it so it’s like a two in one therapy session!

 Difficulty sleeping/ insomnia: really need sleep to be able to function (more than before having thyroid issues) but find it much harder to get off to sleep, plus wake up a lot more during the night:
  •         Don’t exercise too late as the body should be winding down, not up
  •         Switch off computer/ electronics
  •         Don’t eat too late
  •         Try to be in bed early and at the same time each evening

 Immune system issues: we all seem to catch more colds and viruses and they seem worse and take a long time to recover from making life difficult:
  •         Olive leaf tea
  •         Echinacea drops
  •         Vitamin C as it helps to strengthen the immune system
  •         We discussed supplementing separately instead of all in one multivitamins and researching to find the right products
  •         Flu jab – this helps one participant but made another feel very unwell
  •         Avoid people with colds like the plague!

 Body temperature: not being able to regulate our temperature, either too cold or hot, and not being able to cope with being in the sun:
  •         Exercise helps to regulate temps
  •         Wearing layers

 Hair thinning/ falling out: this can be very upsetting for people:
  •         Coconut oil to help dryness
  •         Trichologist, but expensive
  •         Not to get upset about changes in appearance, there is more to you

 Fatigue: both physical and mental fatigue can make us feel isolated, disconnected and depressed and stops people from being able to live their lives:
  •         Learning to say no and not take too much on is difficult but important
  •         75% rule – trying not to use all your energy each day, even on good days when you might want to do lots – factor in rest each day
  •         Being gentle on yourself and not beating yourself up when you can’t do so much
  •         Coming to terms with the changes and understanding your new boundaries

 Anxiety: as with fatigue this can make us feel isolated and inhibit our lives and affect our self-esteem.
  •         Deep breathing and yoga breathing techniques
  •         Gentle yoga practice and other gentle exercise such as Thai Chi and walking  
  •         Meditation
  •         Being around nice, genuine, caring people helps!

 The above coping techniques for fatigue and anxiety crossed over a lot and came up a lot with helping to manage thyroid symptoms and a chronic illness in general.

Nutrition is also big factor in taking control and managing ourselves but although there are some general points that seem to work for a lot of people, such as going gluten free sometimes helping with brain fog and fatigue, or vitamin D and Iron levels needing to be optimal for thyroid to function well, it is all very confusing. We touched on this briefly but there is a lot of conflicting information especially as what works for a person with underactive thyroid doesn’t necessarily work for someone with an overactive thyroid, or autoimmune thyroid, or for people who do not have a thyroid! [note from Lorraine - we are continuing to seek more information on this subject for group members and will have speakers from the University of Surrey Msc in Nutritional Medicine giving talks in November 2013]

We have all had to make life changes and have to keep adjusting. The changes in ourselves, our personalities and our constantly changing boundaries are a struggle to understand and to cope with, not only for ourselves but also for the people around us.

Support from others is a very important factor for our wellbeing but it is very difficult for others to understand how debilitating this illness can be because:
  •         Symptoms can be so variable
  •         It is seen as an easily treated illness
  •         So many symptoms are similar to what people think they can relate to when they are actually very different i.e. thyroid fatigue is very different from just being tired, or brain fog is not the same as having a lack of focus.

It would be useful to build a template for how to explain our symptoms and the things we go through that others don’t see (‘walk in our shoes’)

We also talked about how it can be difficult to spot thyroid symptoms as they can be similar/ confused with many other things, for example problems such as fatigue, depression, and anxiety may or may not necessarily be because of the thyroid and could be an indicator for something else. So being around other people with a similar illness can really help with recognition and understanding of what is happening to us, and although each person is different there is still a lot of common ground.

I’d like to add and I think others agree that the events at the Royal Free are very emotional (in a good way!) and informative, it makes such a huge difference to be around fellow thyroid patients as it can be such an isolating illness and being able to chat with people in a supportive environment is a great relief and really helps me to feel less disconnected from people in general. Thank you!

Other things that were mentioned in breakout group:
  • Heart palpitations – we did talk about this with anxiety but I think although they can be connected, palpitations are also a separate issue on their own.
  • Not a cure but how to cope for now
  • Variability of symptoms limits you
  • Alcohol seems to disagree with us
  • Blood tests don’t necessarily show how you feel

 Other things that were mentioned, but maybe in wider group
  • Time of day for taking thyroid medication vis-à-vis other pills 
  • Reducing carbs, esp sugar
  • Keep book of successes
  • Not the same person as pre-illness


  1. I wish I had of had this when I was first told about my condition! very helpful! Thanks!

    1. thanks for stopping by the blog Kelsey and for that nice feedback, sending wellness vibes and good wishes your way. :)

  2. The Royal Free is actually my hospital but they haven't given me any advice or support at my consultations just told me to take levothyroxine. I am pleased to have found this website and it is all very helpful! I am thinking of attending the meeting in February. Thank you!

    1. sorry to hear that, it seems crazy to me that so often as patients we need to find out so much for ourselves and support each other, there are good info leaflets available from The British Thyroid Foundation as well as some really good books on their approved reading list. I definitely find the meetings the most useful source of info though, by a mile. Would be lovely to see you if you decide to come, you can book a place using the link at the top right of this page or by contacting me. :)

  3. Hi Lorraine,

    I am 26 and have had an underactive thyroid for 2 years. My life has completely changed. I am literally a shell of the person I used to be and 4 sizes bigger. I really didn't know there is help out there and other people like me. My doctor just gave me the pills and said right that's you on those for the rest of your life. Do you know of any guidance on being happier and loosing weight - back to a healthy weight? I am feeling that no matter how hard I try or how positive I try and be, it all just seems so much worse. Thank you so much .